As a citizen of a country that doesn’t require mandatory vaccinations, I am dumbfounded to learn how in the U.S., states like California and New York persecute and ostracize parents who choose not to vaccinate their children.They implement the law through the school registration procedures. As a Talmudic Jew, I know very well that there are two sides of any argument. When the government takes sides instead of allowing public discourse to develop, it creates a reality in which some parents are forced to compromise the health of children despite their personal beliefs, or become a type of lepers, rejected by society. Haven’t we all learned long ago- what resists persists?
Here in Israel, the argument taking place is in a completely different paradigm. In the 71 years of the modern State of Israel, there have been no laws requiring mandatory vaccinations or stipulated conditions for school registration. Only in the past few years there have been some private preschools and kindergartens that have requested vaccination records in order to be accepted. This movement has been not-so-grassroots, but that is beyond the scope of this article.
So the argument here is if a private institution has the right to require vaccinations in order to attend or not. Those in favor cite herd immunity and reason that they just want to protect their children from preventable diseases. Those against cite the Informed Consent principle, which is statutory in Israel, and say that this is discrimination, that any risk of a non-vaccinated child toward a vaccinated child is negligible and that demanding vaccination records goes against patient privacy.
This debate is commonplace in many Israeli communities, but the bottom line is that the government doesn’t force people to vaccinate their children, and vaccination rates are just as high as anywhere in the West.
It is clear to me that if Israel were to, God forbid, pass a law forcing vaccination in order to attend public school, we would see vaccination rates drop. People don’t like having things forced on them. If you have to force it on me, it probably isn’t good.
Now, I know that people are going to say, well, what about the measles outbreak in Israel? The fact of the matter is that we live in a small world, and no one likes to travel it more than Israelis. There was a measles outbreak in Ukraine, and it was bound to happen that out of the many Jews going to visit Rebbe Nachman’s grave in Ukraine, someone would come back with the measles. It is well known that the efficacy of vaccination, like any other medical procedure, is not 100%, and the kid who brought the measles to Israel was vaccinated.
Once the outbreak began in Israel, it is true that the rates of measles were higher among non-vaccinated individuals than vaccinated, though there were plenty of cases of both. The flight attendant who supposedly “died of measles” was vaccinated. The truth is that she went to the hospital because she had measles, but she died from infection from hospitalization. This is a significant cause of death in Israel, but we will scarcely hear the media criticize the conditions in the hospitals, especially the overpopulation of hospital wards. This particular problem is completely avoidable, as it has already been proved that a large portion of these people would do better (and pay less) in home hospitalization.
During the measles outbreak, parents had to decide if they preferred to take their chances with the risks of vaccination or with the risks of the complications of the childhood disease. The MMRV is readily available in Israel, and any parent who chose to go this route didn’t have to pay a shekel at the Tipat Chalav vaccination clinics.
Today, measles is on the decline in Israel. The children who were infected will now have life-long immunity. Parents acted responsibly, keeping their sick kids home for a few days until the ailment passed. People can argue if the primary aspect of the decline is simply consideration of parents and the disease going through its natural cycle, or if it was intervention by public health officials and vaccination.
Either way, this outbreak was a small price to pay for our freedom, and truth be told, there are outbreaks in places that have mandatory vaccinations as well. And all of this is without considering pathogens that get out of control all over the world that don’t have their own respective vaccinations. Perhaps scariest of all are MRSA and other antibiotic resistant bacteria, but that’s what we have public health institutions for.
Back to America, it is very difficult for me to reconcile between America’s extremely libertarian Constitution and Bill of Rights and the fact that there is mandatory vaccination. This led me to do some research, and I found that this whole precedent of mandatory vaccination goes back to a Supreme Court decision in Jacobson v. Massachusetts over a century ago. The year was 1905, and the disease that everyone was talking about was smallpox. Just to give some context, antibiotics hadn’t even been discovered yet…
I think that we should bring this dialogue back to proportions. The year is 2019, a few things have changed in the fields of science and medicine in the past century, including the eradication of smallpox. As a “survivor” of a measles outbreak, I think that the American people should reconsider this norm, and that the Supreme Court should examine if that decision over a century ago is still relevant when dealing with childhood ailments or diseases that can only be transferred by shared needles or sexual relations.